Gold gave a rush to 1840s travelers hurrying west for new wealth, and a trip along the California Gold Rush Highway and its neighboring landmark trails today pumps up exhilaration too.
Did for me in western Nebraska when I realized how many famous frontier routes I could touch in one region of one state, and how many monuments, forests, rivers and landmarks I could enter, all holding national designations.
This is a journey giving new life to classroom lessons, for kids still in school and for travelers like me long ago graduated.
I touched real history on four National Historic Trails:
- Oregon Trail
- California Trail
- Mormon Pioneer Trail
- Pony Express
If you loved ‘Lonesome Dove,' you'll love this trip
I drove part of the landmark Lincoln Highway, first auto route across America. Call it Highway 30 now since a numbering system came into place in 1926. This national road launched in 1913.
Then there’s time on Highway 385 which is known as the Gold Rush Byway.
Guess if I took a train I could claim the Transcontinental Railroad as part of my famous trails experiences too. Maybe next time.
Oregon Trail diaries
Oregon Trail highlights for me are places wagon train travelers wrote about in their diaries, where I could readily stand and gaze, thinking of those families, perhaps appreciating them a bit more fully.
Ash Hollow is one. Pioneers leaving Independence, Missouri needed 40 days to arrive here, finding their steepest hill so far.
You can walk a paved path up to the place they had to struggle down and wonder how they managed their heavy wagons and protected their goods.
Chimney Rock is another. Historians say it’s mentioned more than any other landmark in the Oregon Trail diaries. You’ll drive up an unpaved, unmarked road to get there; settlers would have approached this spire for at least two days, moving toward it only three miles per hour.
Visitor Center stories
Family-friendly museum and film at the adjoining visitor center run by the Nebraska Historical Society.
Chimney Rock with its clear water streams was also a stop for the Pony Express so contemplating today’s Post Office as you look at the routes those riders followed connects history again.
Keep your eye on the Platte River as you roam western Nebraska because the trails followed it for practical reasons.
Seems the Oregon and California travelers kept to one side and the Mormons on the other—but well aware of each other’s presence.
That’s what local historian Bern Miller told me, one of many enthusiastic easy-to-meet people in western Nebraska, caring passionately about the legacy of homesteaders. I found him near two more geologic icons: Jailhouse Rock and Courthouse Rock.
National landmark following in western Nebraska offered me many more iconic views, all with back stories told by knowledgeable people with pioneer ancestors.
The same road trip miles also give easy access to monuments, wilderness and landmarks worth more family travel planning.
Maps—the old-fashioned paper kind—are valuable tools for this trip. “Journey to Western Nebraska: Weekends Out West” is a great one to order ahead from Western Nebraska.
If the National Park System National Trails System in Salt Lake City would send you a set of their detailed, informative maps, bingo! Here’s their number (and it’s not printed on every map) 801-741-1012
Ask for these four maps: Oregon Trail, California Trail, Pony Express and Mormon Pioneer Trail. If you’re on a roll, get the Agate Fossil Beds map too because geology and archeology are wonders in this land too.
Second in a series about visiting western Nebraska.